The one thing that the suburbs seem to have is an endless fount of hard work. There are Mondays when I’m actually relieved to be heading to the bus because I know I’ll not be putting blisters and/or calluses onto my hands.

So while I was out cropping the grass with a hand mower this afternoon it occured to me. While I was gathering up the grass with a rake I thought about it some more because, as we all know, raking is very relaxing and zen. And it looks a lot like Object Dart will be converted to a gardening blog.

Back when I lived in Auckland I worked for two summers as a gardener, and I grew a large and full garden at a flat I lived in. This means I got to know a little about plants and planting, and it’s something I’d like to build on. Naturally there’s been some reading going on, and I think I’m about ready to really embrace the change of pace that is the suburbs and get up onto the bandwagon that is the middle-class garden.

Besides, I just like gardening.

So! A run-down. The property is 800m2 all up, but at least half of that is house, driveway, etc. None of that half is useful for gardening, except that the house blocks out the worst of the number one problem up here at Newlands Manor, the wind. The site is very very sunny, but also very very exposed. So windbreaking is the number one priority with everything we do. It is also foggy as all get-go a fair amount of timeĀ  year-round, so that needs to be accommodated. I had thought that I’d just give up and plant a lot of subalpine grasses and hebes, but then I realised that I’m just not that much of a sook.

And that is why I spent the better part of the Easter weekend putting in a vege patch. When I wasn’t helping with Chef Du Plunge, enjoying the visiting inlaws, or cropping the lawn for clippings to put in the compost that is.

Here’s a photo.

What we have here is the site laid out. This bit of lawn used to be under a shed, so the soil is compacted and a bit awful. Worse, the ground itself is dense clay at best, and hard sandstone at worst – some of which was less than a spade’s depth from the grass.

I’ve dug two trenches, one to the north, and one to the west, and began the process of terracing this bit of lawn into a raised garden bed. This is very important because it will allow the garden itself to drain more effectively than digging trenches or laying fancy piping.

It also fits the natural shape of the site, something you’ll hear me waxing lyrical about a fair bit.

Into the trenches I’ve placed a series of macrocarpa sleepers, levelled them to very near horizontal (they were never going to be *absolutely* level…), and put a second course on top. I’ve also left small drainage holes, and filled the spaces behind them with stones found on site. It will be interesting to see how much earth I lose thru these. I’m anticipating that plant life will fill them preventing too much erosion or slumping in the garden.

The next thing was digging in to at least a spade’s depth, sometimes too, and turning over the clay. This was actually heavy and hard work.

Once that was done I chopped up the sods of earth with a sharpened shovel, added lime, and turned it again. Y0u can also see that I’ve added some warratahs to support the outside of the sleepers. This will become important later when I need to string up windbreaks.

And finally, I was able to add gypsum, a healthy amount of sheep poo, a bunch of dried peat moss, and some compost out of our supply, and hoed the whole lot under.

And that, is the “Beginner’s Garden”, the first of the gardens I will put in. All that nutrient, fertiliser and plant matter (peat) and a load of watering has gone into to start the long process of breaking down the structure of the clay. I reckon a couple of years of breaking up that mass and it should be a fairly decent garden. It gets a fair amount of winter sun (but not too much), so should be good for plants that don’t like too much direct sunlight – the upper garden (still lawn) will be better for full light plants. During the summer the site is exposed to sun all day, while sheltered from the wind by the house.

The final step was to sow the first crop. Rye grass. Lupin was too expensive and we need some plants to kick off the little ecology of this patch, so cheap grass seed it was. It should start to sprout in a week or so, and then we’ll be on our way. By then I should have finished knocking the upper terrace into shape.

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